Monday 29 January 2018

Time to Save Myself ~ Anita

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Joshua Ferris said in his wonderful book, Then We Came to the End, 'Almost nothing was more annoying than having our wasted time wasted on something not worth wasting it on.'
I grew up with a warning ringing in my ears that time is too precious to waste.  My breast cancer diagnosis, a little over three years ago now, has highlighted the truth of this. I know that my time on this planet is finite, cancer or no cancer, and I don't want to get to the end with regrets. I've always known this, but having cancer brings the knowledge into the forefront of the mind, and it becomes a life focus rather than a vague platitude. 
Finding the things we love to do and doing more of them sounds so logical and simple, but it's not easy. We all have the same twenty-four hours in a day.  We have a choice about how we spend those hours, wisely or wastefully. What seems wasteful to me may be time well spent for someone else, and vice versa. 
Self-compassion may be key in moving towards happiness and for me it's a life-long lesson that never quite sticks. As a carer and empath it's my natural inclination to ensure everyone around me is comfortable and content before turning last towards my own needs, by which time my limited energy is spent.  The pleasure I get from helping others returns to me a hundredfold, but I'm too tired to bother much about myself once my commitments are fulfilled. It's so much easier to switch on the tv or spend an hour on Facebook than to think about what I really need or want and then get up and make it happen. 
I don’t believe time can be truly wasted, only spent in a way that brings negative emotion.  The kinds of things that bring frustration such as queuing in traffic, waiting in line in a shop, pressing buttons on phones in a frustrating attempt find a human being to speak to...the trials and tribulations of our world mean a certain amount of our time feels unproductive. This is the stuff of living, the chores that have to be done, the time spent on activities to facilitate the smooth running of our lives. This time is a means to an end and can, with good grace, be seen as  necessary and not a waste. 
Then there’s the expectations of others. Here’s where my ‘shoulds’ kick in. I’m the good little girl who seeks praise, who wants to not only fit in but be popular. I don't like conflict, I can't bear to upset anyone. Trying to please myself as well as others is the challenging balancing act I struggle with. I don't see doing nothing very much as a waste of time, for me it is an essential way to be, for large chunks of my day. Long aimless walks, staring at the birds in my garden, pottering about the house - these things take time if they are to be done properly. However if I grab as much time as I want to spend in this way, then other things have to go. In order to preserve the gaps in my commitments I have to say No, which leads to guilt for letting people down, which clashes with my desire to help others, which contradicts my goal of putting myself first. I inadvertently find my diary full once again, I resent the people who are making demands on my time, and I get grouchy, grumpy, gloomy and glum. 
When I say I'm doing nothing this weekend, that's not an invitation for you to fill up my time. That's me saying I'm doing nothing, out of choice, so please don't ask me to come shopping with you or say you'll pop round because you think I shouldn't be on my own.  I don't want to make excuses for my choices, for wanting swathes of empty time so that I can waste it in my own way.  I'm not living in the way other people expect, packing in adventures and making the most of every opportunity to get out there and do exciting things. I've been seriously ill and now I'm supposed to be full of a zest for life. Well actually, my zest for life takes a quiet form, and it finds joy in a sunset, a robin's song and the first snowdrops. Contentment for me is peace of mind, and the only place to find that is inside me.  Busyness makes me weary and anxious, off centre. In order to function I need blank space, time for my complicated cluttered excavations into my rich inner world.
My breast cancer diagnosis is teaching me many lessons. My slowing down has been partly enforced by hormone medication and the aftermath of treatment and trauma, but for the most part it is done with intention. I don't want to get back on the treadmill that my illness so crudely threw me off. I'm building a bubble in which to live. It's transparent, so I can see out and you can see in. It protects me from myself, my old habits, my learned ways of doing things, the story so far. 

Ed Sheeran gets it right in his song, Save Myself 
So before I save someone else, I've got to save myself
And before I blame someone else, I've got to save myself
And before I love someone else, I've got to love myself


Sunday 28 January 2018

BRiC gets crafty!

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We are delighted to share a series of stunning panels showcasing the many and varied talents of some of our amazing members.

These amazing women are artists and craftswomen, expressing their creativity through baking, cake decorating, crochet, glass-making, jewellery-making, knitting, painting, photography, playing musical instruments and sewing (to name but a few!).

Please give them a big cheer!

“Any human anywhere will blossom in a hundred unexpected talents and capacities
 simply by being given the opportunity to do so.“ ~ Doris Lessing

"Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time".

"Art is the soul, whose soul is the body, 
Craft is the body and soul." ~ Deepta Protik Osman

“Art and love are the same thing: It’s the process of seeing
 yourself in things that are not you.” ~ Chuck Klosterman

“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” ~ Pablo Picasso

We are delighted to finish our arts and crafts feature with the amazing Susan, seen here with her daughter Darcey. Susan set about making 200 cushions for women recovering from breast surgery when she was diagnosed with secondary breast cancer in 2016.

When Susan had a mastectomy after being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014, she realised how important cushions and drain bags were to her recovery. Each time time she had an operation, afterwards Susan made and then donated cushions back to the hospital.

In 2016, came what she described as "the shocker" and Susan was diagnosed with secondary breast cancer. Susan's daughter, Darcey, them aged 18 years, felt that it would help her mum if she had a challenge and made a flippant comment suggesting her mum make 100 cushions. Susan not only rose to the challenge, she raised the bar even higher by setting herself the challenege of making 200 cushions!

Within 10 minutes, Darcey had set up a just giving page for friends and family to donate to towards the cost of the materials Susan needed to make each cushion. Susan then personalised each of these cushions for those who had donated money so she could make the cushions. There was no backing out now!

Susan has found making cushions a focus and distraction from the challenges of further chemotherapy. She describes her daughter as having been the driving force behind the idea.

If you would like a cushion, Susan asks simply for a payment of £3.60 to cover the cost of postage and packaging. For more information, or to request a cushion you can contact Susan at

#resilienceinaction #briccreativity2018 #bricmembers

Saturday 20 January 2018

Weekly Discussion Summary ~ Coping with Breast Cancer New Stories

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How does hearing about cancer in the news impact on us?

In our weekly discussion, we thought about how we cope with news stories and information on (social) media about breast cancer.

Our varied responses generally fell somewhere on a continuum between two positions - on the one hand was 'avoidance', where we cope by completely avoiding any information relating to cancer. At the other extreme is what we might call 'immersion' - where we cope by seeking out as much information as possible - leaflets from the hospital, BBC news, (Breast) Cancer research, charities, websites upon websites. If we can achievie a middle ground, by gaining an understanding of our situation, we can empower ourselves to understand some of the complexities we face - such as the 'scientific' basis for risk-reducing surgery - but, we risk being flooded with information if we aren't careful.

It's in our nature as human beings to search for explanations, for answers and information to help us make sense of what has happened to us. It's not surprising then that we try to find out possible ‘causes’ for breast cancer and we can become bombarded about risk factors, diet, exercise, etc, etc and we can find ourselves drowning in an ocean of mixed information, opinions and facts released by different sites.

Whether we have primary or secondary breast cancer, we are particularly sensitive for (any) information relating to the causes and prevention of breast cancer as well as factors aiding and prolonging survival. The headline, "I had alcohol-related breast cancer. Here’s why I still drink", for instance, carries the implication there was something we did, or didn't do that led us to develop cancer. We ask ourselves 'could I have done anything to prevent it?' We feel responsible.

We need our families and the wider community to understand how sensitive we are to information and the way that breast cancer is portrayed in the media, the way it creates unhelpful stereotypes, unrealistic expectations and misleading headlines. Very many of us are distressed by well-meaning but highly emotive adverts by the big charities - ironically the very organisations seeking to raise awareness and offer us support! Likewise, some of us felt ambushed by the prevalence of cancer - from the topical 'cancer story-line' in our favourite soap opera, or film.

Our psychological vulnerability increases our sensitivity, and given that our fear of recurrence and fear of progression of disease loom high, we are vigilant for any detail we can use to our advantage, to help us survive. Our fear can drive us to grab with both hands any new developments, whether in progress or substantiated - they mean a lot to us. Friends, family, and colleagues are keen to convey their information and social media has a cunning way of portraying the best (this 'know your lemons campaign') and the worst (fake news and pointless awareness raising games )

So, how can we work around these issues so important to our survival, yet that come with such mixed messages?

Naz told us that science is not always exact, it comes with a margin of error. She explained that problems with replicability and the reliability of trials are not unknown. Alot of people have lost their faith in medicine, because its growth is slow, and its effectiveness questionable - though Naz pointed out that 'proper' science grows slowly and steadily. In these circumstances, in an ever more complex world, we must learn to navigate the vast sea of information, choices and options open to us while trying not to get ourselves into an anxious, overwhelmed state of mind where fear and apprehension follows.

If you are a woman living in the UK with a diagnosis of breast cancer and you would like to join our private group, please contact is by facebook message


Saturday 13 January 2018

Weekly Discussion Summary ~ Living Well after Breast Cancer Diagnosis

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"The legacy of a breast cancer diagnosis is a desire for authenticity. We want to be free to be ourselves."

In our first weekly discussion of 2018, we explored the challenges of living well after a diagnosis with primary or secondary breast cancer.

Many of us described the shock of our cancer diagnosis as a 'wake-up call'. Aware of our mortality, it feels like a call to live our lives well, but this realisation can bring high expectations. We feel under pressure to embrace every moment, to become this new, adventurous person, given a second chance, with a zest for life and who must do more, striving to be a better person.

Feeling under pressure to change can carry the implication that it was our fault that we got cancer in the first place. We feel guilty. So much energy can be consumed by trying to keep fears of cancer at bay - whether we have a primary diagnosis and we're trying to get back to some sort of normality, or a secondary diagnosis and we're holding on to as much normality as we can.

Naz told us that research suggests that the highest levels of depression following diagnosis are seen when active treatment ends: this is exactly when expectations and prescriptions on moving forward and living life to the fullness of being happy and grateful are put forward. As time goes by, anxiety is usually fuelled by fear of recurrence which feeds into depressive and guilty episodes of not living up to these expectations, increasing our vulnerability and impairing our quality of life.

Others' expectations of us at this vulnerable stage are high.They see us as 'cured', fixed, well. Whether we like it or not, we are seen as a 'cancer survivor', with all sorts of assumptions projected onto us - that we are going to run a marathon, climb a mountain, jump out of a plane. While many of us can and do challenge ourselves, often to raise money for charities, it is not, and nor should it become, a prescription.

For our members with secondary breast cancer, there are intense feelings of sadness about leaving loved ones early, a grief at leaving too soon. Knowing that their lives will be shortened, the magic of daily life becomes very special.

As we listened to one another, we realised that if having cancer teaches us anything, it's that we have no control over life's fragility, actually we never did, that life, our health, can be snatched from us in a heartbeat. Our cancer almost always affects our physical capability and this means accepting, adjusting and moving ahead. Life still throws us curve balls, cancer or no cancer, and we aren't spared the trials and tribulations. What we do have is our attitude to help us choose. Whatever our situation, whatever our restrictions, whatever our sadness, we still have choices how we can live according to our values and what is important to us.

The legacy of a breast cancer diagnosis is a desire for authenticity. We want to be free to be ourselves. This means getting to know who we are now and we need to explore our feelings. We need to feel we can express our feelings, without shame or guilt. We want to move through our fear and anger and find joy in the midst of our anxiety. We want to find our pleasure in the treasure of presence, whilst still looking ahead to the rest of our life, however long that might be.

We learned that it's ok not to know exactly how to define ourselves, we can let go, be flexible, choose who to be, how to be. We can evolve. We can decide.


Friday 5 January 2018

Striving With Fear in Breast Cancer ~ Naz ~ HuffPost Blog

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"To all the women out there with breast cancer: we cannot afford to break, we cannot afford to give in; because we are women who have a lot of earth shattering work left to do. And we can, in whatever shape or form."

Our very own, amazing Naz wrote this blog, 'Striving with Fear in Breast Cancer' to mark the fifth anniversary of her diagnosis with breast cancer. In it, she shares her mission to promote and translate her research to boost resilience and reduce emotional vulnerability in women with breast cancer. Naz may be an academic, specialising in anxiety and depression for many years, but the fear of recurrence looms as high for her as it does for so many of us and yet she chooses to boldly face her emotions head on: